Bernie Sanders wasted little time signaling that he would stay in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination to the end –and beyond – after losing big to Hillary Clinton in Tuesday’s New York Democratic primary.
Senator Sanders, the democratic socialist from Vermont, is just coming down from a month-long high of primary and caucus victories over Clinton and a brief handshake with Pope Francis in a Vatican hotel lobby last weekend. He says his attacks on income inequality, Wall Street excesses and a corrupt campaign finance system are resonating with Democrats and independents.
Despite his 58 percent to 42 percent loss to Clinton on Tuesday, Sanders believes momentum is still on his side and that the party will come around to viewing him as the superior candidate. The voter gap might have been closer if independents were allowed to vote for Democrats or Republicans—a rule few states other than New York require.
“Today we took Secretary Clinton on in her own state of New York and we lost,” Sanders told reporters late yesterday after returning home to Burlington, Vermont. “There are five primaries next week. We think we’re going to do well.”
Even if Sanders falters again next week in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Maryland and Delaware, his campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, told MSNBC that Sanders has no plans to abandon the race. The Sanders camp hopes to cut into Clinton’s lead -- or even winning -- in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island next week, with upsets possible in some of the other states.
And he is setting his sights on Indiana and Oregon down the road, before the high-stakes primary season finale in delegate-rich California June 7.
Sanders has been increasingly combative with Clinton and the Democratic Party establishment, and has raised concerns yesterday about reports that more than 100,000 voters in Brooklyn who were unable to cast ballots, for a variety of reasons. “While I congratulate Secretary Clinton, I must say I am really concerned about the conduct of the voting process in New York today," he said.
Clinton is already about 80 percent of the way to garnering the 2,383 “pledged” and “super” delegates needed to win the nomination. She will probably be much closer to that number by next Tuesday night, when the votes from the five Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states are finally tallied and 384 delegates are apportioned.
With a huge campaign war chest, a big TV ad budget and a highly motivated liberal base of support, Sanders is well positioned to carry his campaign against Clinton all the way to the July Democratic convention in Philadelphia. After months of relatively placid exchanges between Sanders and Clinton, the tone turned decidedly negative after Sander’s last big victory in Wisconsin April 5, and the two rivals finally took off their gloves.
Once the campaign shifted to New York, Sanders portrayed Clinton as the queen of the political establishment and himself as a revolutionary who would transform politics and a corrupt campaign finance system, while showering the middle class with free national health care, free college tuition and a raft of other costly programs that would be paid for with huge tax increases.
The Democrats’ once high-minded debates over domestic and foreign policy that seemed tame compared to the GOP exchanges abruptly shifted to a flurry of personal attacks. Sanders began to argue that Clinton had disqualified herself to be president by accepting $675,000 in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs and for having voted in the Senate in 2002 in favor of the U.S. invading Iraq. He argued that regardless of her experience as a senator and the nation’s chief diplomat, Clinton routinely made bad choices on national security and foreign policy.
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Clinton refused to back down, and she repeatedly blasted Sanders as a political dreamer, offering up pie-in-the-sky promises to his supporters and advocating wholesale change in government programs and banking policies – including the breakup of banks deemed “too big to fail” – without fully understanding is own proposals.
With no “winner take all” primaries ahead, Sanders would have to score impossibly high victories of 60 percent to 70 percent to catch up with Clinton. And even if he closes the gap on the first ballot, Clinton would hammer him with her support among “super delegates.” Currently, she leads Sanders in super delegates 502 to 38, and the disparity is almost certain to grow in the coming weeks.
In reality, the 74-year-old Sanders who is running the political campaign of a lifetime may soon have to face up to a painful choice: either become a statesman and rally to Clinton’s side to prevent Donald Trump or Ted Cruz from winning the White House, or continue indefinitely as a spoiler who is prepared to do almost anything to keep his campaign and message alive.
A new survey by the Wall Street Journal/NBC News hinted at some highly troubling news for Clinton: Sanders’ increasingly nasty and sarcastic attacks on her -- for accepting millions in speaking fees and contributions from Wall Street and her support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq and a raft of international trade agreements that hurt average workers -- have cut deeply into her overall approval rating.
Some senior members of the Clinton campaign have begun comparing Sanders to consumer advocate Ralph Nader, whose third party campaign for president in 2000 garnered 97,421 votes in Florida, and may have contributed to Democrat Al Gore’s historic loss to Republican George W. Bush in that state by roughly 500 votes.
Joel Berenson, a senior campaign strategist for Clinton, told CNN on Tuesday that the Sanders campaign is “increasingly assailing the character of any Democrats who don’t agree with them, and I think that’s unproductive.”
Tad Devine, senior media adviser was adamant that Sanders would back Clinton if she wins their party’s nomination, but voiced little enthusiasm about that prospect and chided Clinton for making it hard for Sanders’ supporters to consider getting behind her in the general election.
“You know it would be great if the Clinton campaign would be a little more welcoming to people like Bernie Sanders who decides to come into our party and participate and not try to run him out of it.” Devine said.